A recent explosion of research from across many disciplines confirms the importance of the early childhood years in laying the foundation for life-long development. Neuroscience, in particular, offers evidence that demonstrates how the first years of life are critical for developing the architecture of the brain and children’s future capacities to learn. Neuroimaging techniques are now able to show that the brain actually grows through activity — that connections between the billions of neurons each human is born with are made as a result of experiences with materials and relationships. This research affirms what early childhood educators and developmental scientists have long known:
- young children have an innate drive to learn — they construct understandings about the world through active, multi-modal, play-based experiences;
- all aspects of the whole child — social, emotional, and physical development as well cognitive development — are integrally connected and involved in learning;
- caring, warm, safe, and trusting relationships are critical elements of healthy development;
- respect, relevance, and responsiveness to children and families from diverse backgrounds — cultural, linguistic, socioeconomic, learning ability, gender, etc. — are essential to support learning;
- variation in learners is a norm, not a problem;
- interest in a motivating force for learning; and
- when educators trust in the capacity of all to learn children are supported to realize their capacities for growth.
These understandings are bringing the importance of the early years to the attention of policymakers, leading to calls for investments in “high quality early learning.” But what does “high quality early learning” mean? And what does it actually look like in practice? This website features images of teaching to help elucidate what “high quality early learning” is.